I would like to offer some advice from a difficult experience which I had in my church, which God used to greatly transform me, and to mold me into the man I have become today. But I’d like to share my testimony of salvation first.
I’m a Christian of 30 years. I’d been exposed to the Gospel for the better part of my early youth. I was a Bus Kid, and was sent to a number of churches in the area, from across nearly the entire spectrum of Christian religious experience – Methodist, Missionary, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Mennonite, and, of course, Baptist. I went forward on for separate occasions as a youth to receive Christ. Twice at Neighborhood Bible Time, once our local Charismatic church, and once at a Why Knock Rock Seminar in my High School. While I believe I was sincere each time I went forward, I did not appropriate the sacrifice of Christ for myself on any of those occasions, and I never truly experienced the change of the Holy Spirit in my life.
I began attending my current Church in 1990. My Sunday School Teacher instructed us through a lesson series entitled “Battling Bogus Beliefs,” and God cemented my understanding of Who He is and what He did for me. Also, the Pastor at the time stated from behind the pulpit, “You can’t lose your salvation!”, which settled a question I had been struggling with for two or three years, and gave me encouragement to seek God once again.
At last understanding what it meant to be Born Again, I determined to commit my life to Christ at Mallo Camp in eastern Wyoming in the summer of 1991. On July 23, 1991, after the evening service, my Bus Captain and I stepped behind the main lodge, where he led me through the plan of salvation, and I appropriated the sacrifice of Christ for myself, repenting of my sin, and placing my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Master! I then committed to Believer’s Baptism, which occurred on August 11, 1991, and I also surrendered to give up my worldly friendships, and to enter full-time Christian Service. I joined my Church immediately following my Baptism, and began serving in various capacities as a layman there. I have remained in my Church for the better part of 30 years.
To benefit my fellow Recovering Fundamentalists, I would like to relate an experience which I had at this church I’ve been a part of for over half my life.
Ten years after I joined my church, a situation arose in which several disagreements took place, over the course of several months (and possibly even years), between our lay-leaders and our Pastor at the time. Being young and inexperienced, I was largely unaware of the issues broiling beneath the surface of that scenario, but I have come to believe that it was representative of a power struggle between that Pastor and the “core members” of the church. The dissenters would not budge. Nor would the Pastor. Each party had their own vision and set of objectives for the Church. And neither party would see the reason in the other, prompting my Pastor to undertake ever-intensifying methods to retain control over the situation, mainly in an attempt to prevent the split that he had experienced as a young believer in his home church on the west coast.
Two disagreements eventually arose, which both, to some extent, involved me personally. First, my Pastor presented a plan to install me as an Intern, with the eventual intention of grooming me to be that church’s next Pastor, from what I understand of his and my conversations at the time. He first mentioned the idea after a church service, circumventing an agreement that he and the Deacons (2 of whom were of one faction in the church, and 2 of whom were of the dissenting faction) had made, that he would not mention that intention until the Board had had further discussion of the matter. This piled fuel on a growing spiritual wildfire amongst the membership. And when he did at last present this proposal at a Business Meeting, the dissenting faction went up in arms over the fact that he had selected me, and not another long-time member, as an Intern, proceeding to argue for nearly 2 hours over my title. This should have been my sign to take a step back and get a good look at things that were happening, but being the greenest, most naive individual in that Congregation at the time, and among the youngest spiritually, I was unaware of the need to do so. So there was that situation.
Second, my Pastor desired to make myself and an uncle of mine deacons in that church. This caused no small disagreement amongst the members at the time, as the dissenting group was opposed to single deacons, while the Pastor was determined to force the issue through regardless of that disagreement. For my part, as a young Christian, after studying the topic of singles serving as Deacons, I was at peace about the whole idea. However, since there is room for a different interpretation of the passage dealing with the qualifications of Deacons, many believed that it was inappropriate to bring my uncle and myself on board in that position.
I was hesitant to take on the responsibility, due to my lack of experience in such a position, and I believe, due to a perception I had at the time, that things weren’t quite right in that church. I expressed that hesitation to my Pastor. But his method of getting his own way in church matters was, quite simply, to refuse to take “No” for an answer. He pressured me into taking the position. I had a chat with a Deacon and member of the annual Nominating Committee, asking him what Pastor said my answer was to the offer of the position. He said my Pastor gave him a “Yes” on my behalf. Submissively, and unwillingly, I responded, “I guess my answer is yes then.”
At the end of that year, during a business meeting in which the dissenting group was intent on confronting the Pastor before the congregation with regards to his abuses of power as a minister of the Gospel, the Pastor having been made privy to this intention by yours truly, he took the initiative during a business meeting following the evening service, and that’s when it all came apart. After a long, grueling discussion, spearheaded by a very angry female congregant, and after a mental breakdown by an elderly member, we decided upon a confidence vote, to be held at the next business meeting.
The next meeting occurred, with the confidence vote arbitrarily bypassed by that pastor. I confronted him regarding this, for which he justified his actions, stating that someone had informed him that they’d not have the votes to oust him anyway.
After several months of stewing about the injustice of this situation, the mishandling of genuine grievances by all involved, and the part I unwittingly played in half of our church up and walking out – on top of the anger I held over being coerced into taking my position as a Deacon in that church – my bitterness settled in hard, and I began leaning on old habits and old sources of entertainment, in order to pull myself away from the problems in that church. Eventually, God providentially transplanted me to a ministry school in Iowa, where He proceeded to get me away from the influence of this manipulative pastor, and provide me with a desparately-needed hard-reset in my spiritual life. He met me there, mended me there, and then, for His own reasons, permitted me to fall into a hard undiagnosed depression during my final year of college at a Fundamental Baptist school; and then He transplanted me back home, and back to the influence of this manipulative pastor.
I lived the next 9 years, following my graduation from Bible school, in growing anger and bitterness towards my Pastor, replaying the incidents of 2000 and 2001 over and over again in my head, repeatedly, day after day after stinkin’ day. The bitterness intensified, until one morning in 2011, I could maintain no longer. I dropped a lengthy, detailed, angry note to him through the mail, and stayed home from church for several weeks. He attempted to confront me about the note, but things only got worse when it was plain that he was not interested in adjusting his behavior, but only in pressing his agenda in my personal world. Sadly, I stayed at that church regardless of this disagreement.
Two years later, I was laid up with an injury. I was not working for 2 months, and during and following that time period, I never once was shown any compassion by this pastor, which God used to finally push me out of that church for a season. I penned a brief and direct letter to the church, informing them that, after a great deal of counsel, consideration, and prayer, I had chosen to withdraw my membership from that church. I mailed it, and considered it a done deal. He never reached out, and never responded to that note. And between 2013 and 2018, I struggled to rediscover God’s intentions for my life, listening to my go-to preachers on Moody Radio, TBN, and VCY America, and tentatively attending a Southern Baptist church in my town, which happened to be pastored by a former Deacon of my church as well! Still, this led me next to nowhere. I spent the next 5 years pleading with God to move this difficult pastor on, so that I could justify returning to my church, which prayers were never answered.
In April 2018, I woke up on a Thursday morning, the final day of my workweek, to find that my mind had literally come to a grinding halt. Along with my anger and bitterness, I had begun experiencing some paranoia, avoidance, and anxiety issues for the previous several weeks. This time, I was utterly unable to think, plan, pray, or make any decisions of any kind, much less stand on my feet for 10 hours for the fourth day in a row in a week. I called in sick, then after rest and prayer, decided that, since I had an appointment lined up with my doctor in two weeks’ time, I’d report my symptoms to her. I hesitated to do so, not knowing if it would be something major or not, but I had no choice any longer. So I worked the next 2 weeks, and waited.
I reported my symptoms to my doctor, along with a few other symptoms, and was at long last diagnosed with Depressive Disorder. And the fix ended up being unbelievably simple: Medication. I began taking my daily pill, and I began seeing results within 2 weeks.
One morning, as I was waiting for my laundry to finish, sitting in my car outside the laundromat, praying once again regarding my situation with this old pastor of mine, the log that was responsible for my mental logjam finally shifted and started to move: My Pastor simply was not interested in developing a working relationship with me. And if he’s not interested, that’s his loss. I’m moving on. That’s what it finally took to get me moving forward: LETTING MY PASTOR GO. Impossible as it was, it happened. And I began experiencing freedom at last.
Two months later, after a great deal of consideration and prayer, and convincing of self, I decided to give returning to my mother church one final shot. My strategy was to go back to my Alma Mater in Iowa, as I am wont to do every July, and have some actual fun with the experience. I went for the weekend, had some great conversation with some old friends, and then went to the morning service at the church down there. During the morning service, I had some wonderful conversation with some more old friends. I also trolled my former College VP – he asked my name again, and I said my name. He repeated it. I said, “Roger.” He said, “Roger??” I repeated my actual name again. We both burst out laughing. It was a fun moment! Then, during the evening service, Preacher was speaking on how we’re all a work in progress, and some of us are mighty strange, in fact. He then pointed directly at me during the message and shouted, “You’re a weirdo!” To which I immediately mouthed back, “I’m sorry!” BOY was that fun!! And I said something to this effect: “Lord, I’m going back to my church one more time, and I’m going to try to make a fun time out of it. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
I put on my best polo shirt and my nicest jeans, and walked through the doors at my church again. I was happily greeted by a number of old friends. I don’t remember the service at all. But afterwards, I stepped up to my old Pastor, grasped his hand, and after praying as Corrie ten Boom prayed regarding one of her former guards – that God would give me the love for the man that I could not muster up on my own – said, “Hey. Sorry about all that stuff.” He replied, “Yeah, yeah, … so … “, as did I, and we had the manliest restoration on the face of the planet right then and there – my bitterness fell away, and we were friends once again! Knowing that the relationship moving forward would have a different dynamic than it had before, I was able to get things sorted out and right with him. And I’ve been the better for it, by the strength of God! Incidentally, my former Pastor announced his immediate retirement in November of that year, and I have since been informed that he had been delaying his retirement, in part, because he was waiting for a certain former member to return first. God replaced my old Pastor with a young, budding minister, who has a solid vision for evangelism, prayer, and for restoring my church’s reputation within my community. And that former Pastor went on to be a charter member of a new church, half-an-hour from my city, which he’d been trying to help in establishing for many years. He continues to teach and preach as God gives him opportunity in the area.
In summary, I trusted Christ, I got wounded, I got rehabilitated, I got challenged, and I got restored, all in God’s providential timing. But it took 18 long years for that to happen. I never, ever want to go through that kind of experience again. And by God’s strength, I never will.
I offer this final bit of advice for my friends and fellowbelievers in Christ, which I hope will be of some benefit to anyone who may read this. Take this advice seriously, and I believe that God will help to abbreviate the trial you’re suffering through as a wounded Christian right now:
One, never permit a spiritual mentor or leader to coerce you into a position of power or ministry against your will or your better judgment. If God is plainly leading you, individually, to do something for Him, or to avoid something entirely, then follow His promptings, regardless of what it costs you. If you need to confront your leadership, then do it in whatever way you are able, be that by conversation, correspondence, or by simply walking away and seeking His will somewhere else. But if possible, do not ever tolerate mistreatment at the hands of a manipulative or abusive Pastor. Learn to say “No.” Learn to mean “No.” Learn to act on your “No.” And do not be afraid to force others to accept your “No.” When the will of man opposes the will of God for your life, no matter what it might cost you, do the will of God instead.
Secondly, always have a circle of family and/or friends who are completely unaware of and uninvolved in your church situation. Having folks who can be a shoulder to cry on, and who can pull you completely out of your hurt mindset, will give you a chance to refresh your perspective, and perhaps to even home in on a solution that will permanently benefit your walk with God moving forward.
Thirdly, bitterness will only serve to make you caustic and wreck your insides, spiritually, physically, and mentally. If you’re struggling with a relationship that needs repair, or one that you may even need to walk away from, keep on praying that God will help you to see the path ahead. It may involve breaking you. But once He’s broken you, He can then remold you into what He originally intended you to become. KEEP. ON. PRAYING.
And finally, stay under the influence of the Word of God, even if you have to stay out of the House of God for a brief season. I shamelessly recommended Moody Radio as a source of continual spiritual feeding and encouragement when your church life has taken a nose dive. Listen for good preachers, good teachers, good leaders, and good messages, and stay challenged in your Christian life. Never let the Adversary draw you away from God’s good work in your life. And always remember that, whatever your situation might be, God has a purpose in it, and He will reveal that purpose to you, in His way, and in His time.
I hope someone finds this to be a blessing. And I consider it a privilege to be a part of this Recovering Fundamentalist Community! I pray for you all frequently. God bless all of you!
GOD IS GOOD!